Aug 02, 2016

Coal disease identification techniques get a boost

Coal disease identification techniques get a boost

The identification of Black Lung disease in Queensland coal miners is now being supported by United States expertise.

Changes, including double-checks by U.S.-based accredited x-ray readers are now operational, Natural Resources and Mines Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said.

The improved screening and quality assurance system is part of the three-pronged attack Dr Lynham announced earlier this month to tackle the re-emergence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis.

“Government, employers, unions and the medical profession have acted quickly to implement plan to deal with this important health issue,” he said.

“Going forward, all coal miners requiring respiratory health assessments will have their chest x-rays checked, and then double-checked, by two medical experts.

“The new screening system will see an Australian radiologist read x-rays to the International Labor Organisation (ILO) standard first.

“In a key change, radiologists will report in the format recognised by the ILO, which provides a rigorous process for reporting on the presence of the disease, and if it is present, describing its stage.

“Initially, digital x-rays will be provided to the US to be checked a second time by an x-ray reader accredited by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“This second check will be established and available within Queensland, as soon as local radiologists are accredited in the ILO system.

“These measures have been developed based on feedback from key stakeholders together with local and international medical experts to ensure the quality of medical assessments and health care provided to mine workers is second to none.”

Dr Lynham said the new system would help restore coal miners’ confidence in the screening program, with results back to their doctors usually within a fortnight.

“I urge any coal mine worker who has concerns about their health to talk to their general practitioner,” he said.

Eleven Queensland miners have been diagnosed with coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, which is caused by long-term exposure to high concentrations of coal dust.

The joint three-pronged approach, announced at a joint news conference by government, unions, employer and medicos, aims to:

  • prevent new cases of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis
  • identify existing cases early
  • provide a safety net for workers with the disease.